CEDAR RAPIDS - Coming up short so many times before, the top-ranked Grundy Center volleyball team finally gets to play on Saturday night.
The Spartans got brilliant performances from seniors Heather Hook and Sam Meyers, overcame a feisty Janesville squad and advanced to the Class 1A championship match with a 25-21, 25-19, 26-28, 25-17 victory at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena.
"I have watched a lot of Saturday matches from the stands," Grundy Center coach Darwin Sents said. "It is going to be fun coaching in one. Playing on Saturday is going to be a blast."
T-R PHOTO BY TROY HYDE
Grundy Center’s Heather Hook, left, and Stephanie Faust, center, celebrate with Riley Sents during Friday’s Class 1A state semifinal volleyball match against Janesville at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena. The Spartans advanced to tonight’s championship match for the first time in program history with a 3-1 triumph over Janesville, 25-21, 25-19, 26-28, 25-17.
Sents has coached in the state tournament five times but this will be his first-ever championship match. The top-ranked Spartans reached the Class 2A semifinals the past two seasons but lost both times.
"We've been so close, so many times," Sents said. "This was our time to get here. This group believed in each other and were hungry all season. They can taste that state title."
The Spartans now have a championship date with four-time defending champion Tripoli, which lost the first set to second-seeded Holy Trinity on Friday before rallying to win in four games.
Thursday, Nov. 8
Janesville 25-25-25, Stanton 19-12-18
Tripoli 25-25-25, Le Mars Gehlen Catholic 19-11-21
Grundy Center 25-25-25, Grandview Park Baptist 13-18-13
Holy Trinity Catholic 25-25-25, Marquette Catholic 16-22-12
Friday, Nov. 9
Grundy Center 25-25-26-25, Janesville 21-19-28-17
Tripoli 21-26-25-25, Holy Trinity Catholic 25-24-21-20
Saturday, Nov. 10
Grundy Center (35-6) vs. Tripoli (37-5), 6 p.m.
"The girls are well aware that this isn't it," Sents said. "We'll rest up tonight, get some ice and go back at it tomorrow."
It didn't come easy as fifth-ranked Janesville wouldn't go away quietly after Grundy Center (35-6) jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the match.
The opening set was nip-and-tuck until a strong service run by Hook gave the Spartans a comfortable edge at 21-14. The Wildcats had cut the lead to one before the 6-0 run and Hook scored an ace during the run while Meyers and Stephanie Faust each had a pair of kills.
Janesville, which also was making its third straight trip to the semifinals, did a good job of fighting off game point. The Spartans led 24-18 before finally closing out the first set at 25-21 following a kill by sophomore Noel Saak.
Grundy Center kept the momentum in the second game, taking a 6-1 lead behind strong net play from Meyers, Faust and Stephanie Ackerman.
Meyers finished with a career-high 23 kills, 15 digs and five blocks in the win, while Faust and Ackerman added 12 and nine kills, respectively.
"We've been down here a lot and were never able to get to Saturday," Meyers said. "We all did our jobs tonight and got it done. It feels great."
Janesville fought back like it did all night and tied it at 10 and the game remained tight at 15-all later, but a long service rally by Meyers turned things around for the Spartans. A 5-0 surge essentially put the game away for Grundy Center.
Things got sticky in the third game as the Wildcats continued to battle for their shot at the title match. They jumped out to a 5-1 lead, but three kills from Meyers got the Spartans back in the set. It was nip and tuck the rest of the way with ties coming at points 10, 11, 12, 13, 23, 24, 25 and 26. The Wildcats eventually prevailed after a kill by Kendyl Sorge hit the floor. Sorge finished with 19 kills for Janesville, which ended its season at 32-9.
With Meyers starting on the back row in the fourth game, Hook took it upon herself to get things going for Grundy Center early. She came through with two blocks and served up an ace during a long service run to put the Spartans up 9-1 in the early stages.
She then got Meyers on track as the senior hitter put down three kills to push the advantage to 13-5. Another block and two more kills from Hook made it 17-10 and the Spartans cruised from there.
Hook finished with 44 assists, 15 digs, seven kills, four blocks and three ace serves.
"We worked Sam pretty hard tonight, and someone else had to step up there for us when they started to key on her," Sents said. "Heather did a good job at the net for us. The entire team has really had a strong tournament. We got things going in that fourth game and never really looked back."
Hook said she just felt like she needed to make some plays once the Wildcats started to force other players to beat them.
"I felt like I needed to step up my offense a little bit, and I just did what I could to help this team win," said Hook, who was 20-for-23 in serves on the night. "We knew they weren't going to just lie down so we needed to make the plays to win the match. We eventually did what we needed to do to finish them off."
Sophomore libero Riley Sents finished with 33 digs to lead the Spartans, while Faust had five blocks to go with her 12 kills. Ackerman also contributed 17 digs, while Peyton Ralston added 12 digs. The Spartans finished with 24 blocks and were 91-of-100 in serving.
"We have worked so hard to get to this point, and we finally broke that barrier of that Friday game," said Riley Sents. "It feels good, but we just need to come out and play our game tomorrow, take care of the details and come out with a lot of energy and enthusiasm."
Tripoli has won four straight state championships in Class 1A and will have a shot at five in a row Saturday. The Class 1A title match will begin at 6 p.m.
"It feels awesome," Hook said. "Coach has been down here so many times. I am glad we finally got him and Coach (Lori) Willis to the championship."
Janesville also got 10 kills from Sylvia Amile, while Brittney Hanson finished with 33 assists. Hanson also had 22 digs, while Destiny Christopher also finished with 22 digs. The length of the match was 100 minutes. Third-ranked Tripoli beat Holy Trinity 21-25, 26-24, 25-21, 25-20 in the other 1A semifinal. Ashlen Damm had 16 kills and 16 digs to lead the defending champions, while Toni Moeller had 38 assists and 14 digs. Tripoli improved to 37-5 on the season, while Holy Trinity ends its run at 44-5.